This December 14, 2012, the spirit of Herod brutally intruded upon our world, upon a people in festive excitement and preparation for Christmas, many anticipating the birth of Our Savior and King. In a little town in Connecticut, at a gradeschool where the approach of Christmas gave the children there special light and anticipation, 20 children and 6 adults trying to protect them, were suddenly and mercilessly mowed down for no discernible reason. Just as the death of the Holy Innocents in Jesus’ time must surely have involved the death of adults, mothers and fathers desperate to save the lives of their children, so in Newtown, 6 adults gave their lives to do the same.
Jesus comes into our darkness this Christmas, into a world shocked by its own violence and yet blinded to some of the deepest violences embedded now in its own way of life. A question perennially present once again breaks through the surface into our anguish to demand an answer: Where does this violence come from? Is it situational? Is it cultural? Is there a hereditary predisposition to it? Why does this keep happening?
This problem reveals itself at the beginning of time when Cain first raised his hand and spilled the blood of his own brother. And it comes down to a simple premise. What rules our lives! There are only 2 answers here. We choose self-rule or we allow God to order our lives according to His wisdom.
Our first parents chose self-rule and left us the inheritance of that choice: shattered relationships, disharmony, weakness, toil, excessive self-love, the loss of divine gifts, a tendency to be enslaved by sin, the flesh, evil, violence and finally, death.
This is a choice we all make. We choose either self-rule or God’s wisdom, God's way. This is a choice we must make as a people as well. And our choice will determine our future.
History shows that self-rule is a seed-bed for many tragedies. When, as a people, we choose self-rule, the first to suffer are the weakest, most vulnerable and innocent: the unborn, children, the disabled, the elderly, the poor. All those who cannot defend themselves against the lust for self-seeking power that self-rule generates in man’s soul are at risk. (Note: the use of the term self-rule here signifies something different than self-control or self-mastery.)
At the same time, those we marginalize are a reflection of the greatest marginalization of all-God. God is the most marginalized in our world today. We have pushed Him out of public life, our government, our schools, out of our personal lives, and now there is even an attempt to regulate God in the confines of His own House, telling Him He must be subject to the government in His dictates to us. (see HHS mandate)
This is a marginalization that began with the Fall and is perpetuated everytime we choose ourselves over Love. We live in a society that has chosen again and again to proclaim self-rule over God’s wisdom. And this is deadly. Self-rule as a principle for a people, will always degenerate into barbarism, for self-rule, infected as it is by selfishness, is unable to exert itself in the discipline of Christian virtue. It is unable because the practice of virtue requires denying oneself for a greater good, a good beyond self.
Jesus shows us how to choose Love as the rule for ourselves this Christmas, even in our deepest darknesses. He shows us how to choose Love by His own example of continually choosing us, no matter the level of depravity we sink to. The witness of the children and teachers slain in Sandy Hook is a witness of this kind of love: innocent love in the children and it’s mature counterpart, self-giving love in the adults. Incidentally, if we want more adults who are self-giving, one thing is certain; we have to stop destroying the innocence of our children.
This kind of love is the only thing capable of conquering the separation, isolation, selfishness and violence that is born of our narcissistic self-rule. Our hope and our faith reside in the Gift that comes to us this Christmas, that precisely in our deepest darknesses and even though we marginalize Him to the stable, God comes, He still comes to us…in the pure, selfless, innocent love of a Baby Who hides within Himself the glory of the Divinity’s desire to save us, to heal us, to take away our tears, to restore our hearts and to gladden us with His presence.
Mary knows what Her child is destined for; she receives the prophecy of the sword that hangs over her own heart. But She also knows the victory that Her Son, Love Incarnate is destined to win. Her faith holds us fast in the dangers and evils and violence of the present age, knowing the darkness is surely and definitively being banished away.
We mourn with the families of Newtown, like Rachel mourning her children because they are no more, though we know they are safe now with the Lord. But we know too with firm conviction, and without passing judgment, that the spirit of Herod, Herod whose self-indulgence led him to madness and a worm-eaten end, is vanquished by the love of the innocent Child whose promise of a restored inheritance is ours if we have the wisdom to choose it, an inheritance where: “…the lowly will ever find joy in the Lord…for the tyrant will be no more and the arrogant will have gone; and all who are alert to do evil will be cut off.” Isaiah 29: 19-20
In the Heart of Our Blessed Mother,
Sr. Anne Marie Walsh, SOLT
General Sister Servant of SOLT